First Corinthians 3:7

Only God who gives the growth… I’d like to focus with you this morning on growth and what it is that Paul means when he says, “Only God who gives the growth.” And as a follow up to what we’ve discussed so far in First Corinthians, it’s important to note that the GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may not always be obvious. It may happen in the blink of an eye when the cameras aren’t rolling. The GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may not be measurable in the same ways that we measure a person’s height or a company’s revenue. In fact, the GROWTH THAT GOD GIVES may require an agreement—a covenant agreement—on what kind of growth really matters. It may, as we said last week, require the on-going process of “interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.”

But just for the sake of argument let’s just say that Paul wants to make this simple comparison. He wants to compare the growth of a plant with the growth of the people of God. And like all of us the apostle has observed what’s necessary for growth. First, there needs to be a planter. Second, there needs to be a person who waters. And lastly, by some miraculous reproduction of cells, there is the growing thing itself, green and growing toward the sunshine and into the air. Where there was once nothing but a little speck in the dirt, there are root systems and the landscape is utterly transformed.

Now, everything that I’ve just described happens all the time at the literal level. Literally things are growing. Literally someone planted the tomato plants in our community garden and literally someone hooked up the hose and watered them. But let’s take the metaphorical leap that Paul takes in First Corinthians.

Latah Valley is GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. It’s not given by me. It’s not given by you or by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Latah Valley is not the seed of the idea of starting a new church. Latah Valley is not the watering of how we do worship or what the leadership structure looks like. Latah Valley is the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES and that we, all of us, are privileged to receive.

For the past several months, as you might imagine, I’ve been beating myself up and occasionally beating you up and I’ve been saying, “Why haven’t we grown? Why don’t we grow?” And finally, it dawned on me. We are growing. You are growing and I am growing with the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And it’s growth that makes our hearts weep tears of love when they used to be stone cold. It’s growth that makes our minds giggle with a question. It’s growth that winds like a tendril into our souls. It’s growth that comes into our hearts, our minds and our souls as we consider Jesus and him crucified.

Jesus Christ, you see, is our model for the GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And when we look at him, on one level, we see a Jewish man who grew up in a working class family in an occupied country and he eventually quit his job as a carpenter and started walking around an area no bigger than a hundred square miles and at the end of his thirty-three years he had twelve (strike that) eleven men and assorted prostitutes and other women who followed him. He is our model for growth—the kind of growth that God gives.

And the funny thing about this Jesus-kind-of-growth is that when we’re in the middle of it, it doesn’t feel like growing. It feels a little bit like dying. It feels that way. It only feels that way until we begin to hear this whisper. And the whisper I think wraps around us like waves of warm bathwater and we soak in it for a while; we bask in it for a while, getting all nice and wrinkled. And then amazingly we rise.

This morning, as we read through First Corinthians, chapter three, the one thing that’s clear to me is that many of the church folk in Corinth don’t comprehend this growth. What they get is Paul. What they get is Apollos. And Paul writes to them with this self-effacing challenge:
What then is Apollos? What is Paul? Servants through whom you came to believe, as the Lord assigned to each. I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.

You see, whether or not we understand this growth that feels like dying and whether or not you have latched onto Latah Valley as your church—we have ultimately not gathered here to claim affinity or like-mindedness with one another. We have ultimately not gathered here to proclaim “I really love these people” (although we may and I do). We have ultimately gathered along the banks of a meandering creek and adjacent to Route 195 for GROWTH THAT ONLY GOD GIVES. And when he gives it, all you and I can do is invest in it.

Amen.

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Latah Valley Transition

June 17, 2011

Dear Friends of Latah Valley:

Grace & Peace in Jesus’ name!

I’m writing to you now with mixed feelings. On the one hand, I have a sense of wondrous expectation about what God’s Spirit wants to do with the church community around the world and with the likes of you and your friends and family. On the other hand, I am sad because our particular New Church Development, known from the start as Latah Valley, has fallen on hard times.

What I mean is that we have not grown numerically over the previous two years (since moving to our present location), and what’s more troubling is that, as pastor, I have been unable to convey my vision for the church with much clarity. For these and other personal reasons I will be asking the Presbytery of the Inland Northwest and the Latah Valley administrative commission to dissolve the pastoral relationship between us. That is, I will finish my last day as Latah Valley’s pastor on June 30.

With this in mind, my hope is to celebrate with you the many fruitful times of ministry that we have shared. In November of 2006, I moved here with my family from Pennsylvania, where Sheryl and I had helped to plant a congregation that chartered in 1999 with over one hundred members. My dream involved doing something similar in Spokane, and with the support of Hamblen Park Presbyterian Church among others, we have put ourselves at risk in witness to the gospel. Some highlights for me include:

• Our very first Easter Sunrise Service in the parking lot near Chaps & Latah Bistro (April, 2007).

• The Emergent Mainline Dialogue hosted at Whitworth University (November, 2007) and our first worship at Moran Prairie (December 9, 2007).

• The Community Garden, A Baptism In Latah Creek, A World Relief Connection.

• The Art Auction At The Threshold (September, 2009 & October, 2010).

• The Live Nativity (December, 2009 & 2010).

Again, it’s important for me to acknowledge the myriad ways that you have jumped in and embraced this work and for the joyful attitude you’ve had throughout our many ups and downs. Like those first century fellowships that endured much persecution, you and I have borne the brunt of everything from economic hardships to communication quagmires. I, for one, have learned a great deal about myself and the tenacious love of Christ Jesus.

Finally, let me encourage you to dream one more time. Dream about, not simply knowing those you already know, but dream about the unreached and the unchurched people who surround us. Simply by virtue of your presence and passion for Latah Valley, I continue to believe that God has called you to share your stories of faith with them. For now I will be pursuing my Master of Fine Arts degree in poetry at Eastern Washington University, and perhaps a little teaching down the road. If we should meet somewhere at worship or in a pub or between the frozen foods and the baking aisles—I pray that we will be able to smile at one another and know that we have attempted “great things” in Jesus’ name, and that there are still many books to be written about all the things that Jesus says and does through us. Thank you.

May the Peace of Christ Be With You Always—

Charles Scott Kinder-Pyle
Friend in Christ


1 Corinthians 2:13

The Spirit of God has been associated with Wind and Breath, and I like both of these images very much. The Spirit is Wind in that the Spirit comes upon us from the outside in. We feel the effects of the Spirit like we do the effects of wind. And yet, the Spirit is also Breath in that the Spirit comes from within and among us. And we feel the effects of the Spirit like we do the effects of our own breathing. In and Out. Out and In…

Now that dual-description of the Spirit of God is of course not everything the Bible has to say on the subject. But it’s an important primer to what the apostle Paul wants to teach about the Spirit in First Corinthians, chapter two. Namely, he says in verse 13,
the Spirit interprets—“interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.” And, you see, it is none other than the Wind-and-Breath Spirit that does this interpreting; and that means that whenever this spiritual interpretation takes place it happens from the outside in and from the inside out.

For example, a random guy by the name of Adam loves to ski. He skis every chance he gets. He travels to Colorado, to Utah and to the Swiss Alps in order to ski. Adam grew up skiing with his mother who virtually nurtured him on the slopes. But, after his mother has passed away, Adam is skiing at Schweitzer resort in early March and he has this mystical experience. He gets off the lift and is about ready to take on a black diamond set of moguls and it occurs to him that his love for this activity has its source in his parents’ love and his parents love might even be traced even further back… to the love of God. You see, that’s what we mean when we say the Spirit interprets from the outside in. Adam has taken a lifetime to make this connection:
“for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within?”

Now I want to take what I just described as happening to Adam a bit further. Suppose, after Adam’s experience on the mountain, he skis back to the lodge and he tries to tell somebody. Suppose he tries to tell Rebecca who works in one of the Schweitzer shops in the village and suppose Rebecca is this woman that Adam has recently slept with. At first, Rebecca might be skeptical. Initially she might respond to Adam by saying, “You’re so full of it… Hey, let’s go out tonight. Have a few drinks.” This reaction, of course, may be discouraging to Adam. But suppose he persists. Suppose he invites Rebecca to go to a chapel service with him and surprise, she goes. And suppose they eventually approach another couple about starting a prayer group. And suppose eventually Adam and Rebecca get married and become missionaries to some of the snowy places where they used to take vacations. You see, this would be an example of the Spirit interpreting things from the inside out.

And just think for a moment about the beauty, the intricate and intimate beauty of these interpretations happening in the lives of individuals and social groups. Think about them multiplying and layering on top of one another generation after generation. Latah Valley, as many of you know, has been started with this beauty in mind. That is, we believe that God is making these connections both with us and without us. And so, one of the reasons I like to emphasize church as dialogue is this: you and I may be one of the few interpretive forums for people to come and say, I have a question.

With this in mind, then, it’s important for all of us to understand that interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual is not easy. In fact, the prelude to every valid interpretation of the Spirit is bewilderment. For evidence of this we need to look no further than Acts, chapter two, when the Spirit blew into Jerusalem and Jewish people from all around the world spoke in foreign languages (not their own) and were then accused of being drunk on wine at 9 o’clock in the morning.

The point here is that the Spirit of God very often will manifest its presence in terms of the fruit of the Spirit—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control—but the process of developing and maturing these fruit is an interpretive process from the outside in and the inside out.

There’s a good illustration of what I’m getting at here in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain, where Huck has a decision to make about the runaway slave, Jim. He has been taught through various interpretations of the Bible that God had intended and sanctioned slavery as a benefit. He has been taught through various interpretations of the Bible that if he doesn’t turn Jim into the authorities that he, Huck Finn, will go to hell. That’s how Huck interprets his relationship and that’s initially what motivates him to write a letter and reveal Jim’s whereabouts. And just when he’s ready to send the letter, he has what I would call a Spirit-moment:
(I) set there thinking – thinking how good it was all this happened so, and how near I come to being lost and going to hell. And went on thinking. And got to thinking over our trip down the river; and I see Jim before me all the time: in the day and in the night-time, sometimes moonlight, sometimes storms, and we a-floating along, talking and singing and laughing. But somehow I couldn’t seem to strike no places to harden me against him, but only the other kind. I’d see him standing my watch on top of his’n, ‘stead of calling me, so I could go on sleeping; and see him how glad he was when I come back out of the fog; and when I come to him again in the swamp, up there where the feud was; and suchlike times; and would always call me honey, and pet me, and do everything he could think of for me, and how good he always was; and at last I struck the time I saved him by telling the men we had smallpox aboard, and he was so grateful, and said I was the best friend old Jim ever had in the world, and the only one he’s got now; and then I happened to look around and see that paper.
It was a close place. I took it up, and held it in my hand. I was a-trembling, because I’d got to decide, forever, betwixt two things, and I knowed it. I studied a minute, sort of holding my breath, and then says to myself:
“All right, then, I’ll go to hell” – and tore it up.
“Alright then,” says Huck, at a certain bend in the Mississippi river. “Alright then… I’ll go to hell.” And, you see, the irony of that spiritual interpretation is really profound. And it makes me wonder about the things we have to decide about being church in today’s world.

Back in our last congregation, someone approached Sheryl and I and said that we shouldn’t try to interpret the Bible. The Bible speaks for itself, he said, while ironically going on to interpret it himself. “There—you just did it again,” he said. “You’re interpreting. There and there you’re interpreting the plain words of scripture.” And gradually it dawned on me. The Christian faith is so radical and so life affirming it’s frightening for people. The Christian faith, as opposed to the Law of Judaism or to the Koran of Islam, puts the revelation of God in our tentative and sweaty and clumsy hands and, make no mistake, each sentence of the Bible begs us to respond. And when we respond, whamo!

We are interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

There’s no way around it, and there’s no reason for us to look for a way around it.

In fact I would go so far as to say that interpreting spiritual things is our privilege and not our burden at all. Thanks be to God!

First Corinthians 1:10

Agreement. Agreement is a friendly word until we ourselves try to agree on an idea or a project or a plan with another person or another group of persons. When that happens, as you may know, there’s a lot of back and forth, posturing, practices of persuasion, rhetoric that gets one side fired up against the other, maybe a little compromise, a little razzle-dazzle, a little manipulative mumbo-jumbo, a handshake, a signature, a notarized document and when all is said and done we have an agreement.

But I’d like to point out this morning that forging agreements is nothing new under sun. A strong biblical word for agreement is covenant. God made a covenant with Abraham and Sarah. He agreed to be their God and to give them a child and that from this child would spring up descendants as thick as the sand on the shore or the stars in the sky. God made a covenant with Moses and the escaping slaves from Egypt. He agreed to be their God—which he was anyway—and they agreed to be his unique people with a unique claim on a unique piece of land. So the point I’m making is that the word agreement runs parallel with the Hebrew notion of a covenant that’s struck with God. And when Jesus arrives on the scene in Roman occupied Judea, lots of covenants have come and gone. Lots of them have been agreed upon with lots of fanfare and hoopla and then eventually forgotten and broken into pieces. Jesus then goes about his sacred business of crafting a new agreement (which by the way is the reason the New Testament is called the New Testament because the writers are all bearing witness to the covenant that God has renewed in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus).

Don’t you agree? I remember once having an argument with someone about extraterrestrial life on other planets. And we agreed that is it is possible that other civilizations exist right now on some distant rock that happens to orbit a sun that appears to our eyes like a speck in the night. We agreed. But then the conversation turned to Jesus… It turned to Jesus and whether or not, if he’s the Messiah and Savior of this world, planet earth, wouldn’t it be necessary to have other Saviors to forgive the sins of other creatures on other planets. This, of course, is the kind of discussion that coincides with a busy waitress bringing a few bottles of beer. And as we talked on and on and laughed at ourselves, trying to agree, one thing became clear to me: our agreement on whether Jesus would be the Savior for the whole Universe or for just the known sphere of earth made no difference. What mattered wasn’t the agreement on this side or that side. What mattered was the relationship that allowed us to have the discussion to start with.

And so, let’s take another look at First Corinthians, chapter one, where the apostle Paul writes to one of the first century’s most contentious congregations. He says,
“Now I appeal to you, brothers and sisters, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you be in agreement and that there be no divisions among you…”

What do you suppose is going on here? And, as we try to imagine that dynamic that occurred in that fellowship over two-thousand years ago, what might that mean for us who live and breath many miles and many moons later?

I would like to suggest that agreeing on an idea or a project or a plan is not nearly as vital as agreeing on the relationship. In this sense, Paul uses very specific language. “Be in agreement.” That is, BE IN IT. Be IN it like a person who swims must be IN the water. BE IN IT like a person who is utterly immersed in the blessing of God and that the blessing of God has nothing to do with right thinking or correct opinions about the world.

In the classic movie, Twelve Angry Men, Henry Fonda plays the part of the one man on the jury who believes that a murder suspect may be innocent of the crime. He is one against eleven. And what’s fascinating is how by the end of the story, all eleven change their minds and agree: the suspect they once had thought to be guilty they agreed was innocent. My point here, however, is not to argue the American system of meting out justice. I simply want to make note of the fact that these twelve men had to stay together and maintain a relationship. And even when they disagreed on the merits of the case and the details of the case, they agreed to BE IN RELATIONSHIP.

Latah Valley—the mind of Christ Jesus is this mind—the audacious and tenacious capacity to BE IN RELATIONSHIP AND NOT TO FAKE IT. At first it might follow the old proverb, that “we agree to disagree.” But listen to where Paul takes the Corinthians in chapter one, verse 26:

“Consider your own call, brothers and sisters, not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish… God chose what is weak… God chose what is low and despised. He is the source of life…”

You see, agreeing to disagree may after all keep us at the level of the world’s categories. And as you well know, the world is very good at making categories for whose in and whose out. Paul’s proposal, by contrast, is that we value above every category the shared, covenantal blessing we have in Christ. God chose us… Wouldn’t you agree?

Walk And Not Faint (Isaiah 40:31)

I want to combine today’s passage with something that I’ve read in the letters of the apostle Paul. He writes, for example in First Corinthians 9:22, “To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak…” Then in Romans 14:1 he says, “Welcome those who are weak in faith, but not for the purpose of quarreling over opinions.” And, you see, when we place these apostolic references to the “weak” next to what Isaiah 40 has to say about those who wait for the Lord, not growing weary, but running and walking and definitely not fainting, there’s a huge question mark that’s dangling in the wind.

What I mean is, I cannot imagine the prophet wants us to walk over or walk around those who might have a few fainting spells. I cannot imagine that any more than I can imagine the Good Samaritan walking on the other side of the road like the priest and the Levite. I cannot imagine walking under the power of the Holy Spirit without at least trying to help those who faint—either spiritually, emotionally or physically.

Sheryl and I once went on a date to see the movie Fatal Attraction. I had heard about the plot of the film, but didn’t realize that it occasionally took these very violent turns.
Namely, Glenn Close, who plays the part of the seductress, turns out to be a psychopath. And she turns out to be suicidal. So imagine my surprise when upon sitting back and watching this gory scene, Sheryl says that she needs to get down on the floor. This was the first time this had ever happened to me. I had never been around someone who knew that she was about to faint, who could sense it coming on, and then whamo! She fainted. She passed out beside me in the cinema and then as she regained consciousness we thought we’d leave quietly. We started to then walk up the aisle and when we got to the door, Baam! Down goes Sheryl in the lobby. A guy in refreshments then rushed over and asked if we needed an ambulance. I was about to say Yes, when Sheryl revived again and said No. And after getting our refund we walked slowly to the parking lot.

Now, the reason I’m relating this detail is not to harp on the fact of Sheryl fainting or Sheryl being weak when it comes to certain movies. The reason is to highlight what you and I might do in the event of a spiritual loss of consciousness. That is, I pray and I hope that we would support and stay with the person who is fainting. I pray and I hope that we would not become so proud of our ability to walk in Jesus’ name that we would walk away in Jesus’ name.

Just consider these possible connections:
• Spiritual fainting might involve personal sins like lying, cheating or stealing.
• Spiritual fainting might involve systemic sin or corporate sin like slavery or racism that is built into and reinforced among a group of people.
• Spiritual fainting might involve a loss of trust within the community of faith.
• Spiritual fainting might involve a myopic and overly opinionated view of the world and a corresponding elevation of shame.
If any man, woman or child experiences any one of these conditions, the chances are very good that there will be a terrible fall. The fall may take the form of prison time, or a bad reputation. The fall may take the form of anxiety over our barricaded, locked-down cities. The fall may take the form of a divorce or a nervous breakdown… And yet, here’s the good news. Within the context of these terrible collapses, God has sent those who “run” and those who “walk.” And, here’s the important part: as they “walk” a huge component of their stride is devoted to bearing up those or supporting those or refreshing those who have fainted.

Who does your heart break for? The answer to that question makes up the spiritual muscles and tendons that keep your walk with Christ on track. In the Shawshank Redemption, Andy Defreyne is sent to prison unjustly. He is a bank presient and a trained accountant who’s been accused of murdering his wife. He didn’t do it, and yet the years go by and he has to adjust to his new life behind bars.
One day, however, Andy encounters a new inmate who had been convicted of lots of petty burglaries. Andy becomes Tommy’s mentor and walks with him and talks with him and eventually encourages him to learn to read and to study for his high school equivalency test. Tommy, of course, becomes discouraged in taking the test. He crumples his paper up in a ball and says, “Do you want to know my score? Two points,” and then slams it into the trash can. Andy then goes to the trash can and unwrinkles the paper and starts the process over again—the process of walking and talking and carrying hope for someone whose lived in despair for so long it’s as if he’s fainted…
“Even youths will faint and be weary and the young will fall exhausted…”

Dave Matthews sings a song that I think refers to this dynamic when he says, “Save me, Save me, Mister Walking Man, if you can…” And the fact is, Jesus can and will and does save through our steps. He does make us whole by loading us up on his back and walking on and on. And then at some point there’s a pause in the walk and Jesus turns to us and says what he says in Matthew 11:29—30:
“Take my yoke upon you and learn from me… for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Isn’t that stunning? Just as we imagine that we’re walking alone, above, behind or ahead of others, we meet someone who walks with the world on his back and can do it. And then he honors us by saying it’s time for you to get off my back and pull with me. It’s time for you to pull with others who are also walking in the same direction, others who have hearts that break for those who have fainted.

“Why haven’t you called me? It’s been like five years and you’ve never called me,” he said on the phone. I knew this man from my previous congregation and had mentored him with prayer and conversation. Yet, when I moved away I moved away. And now he contacted me to say that he had stopped going to church.
I listened to him for a while. I listened to him painfully unpack his experiences over the last five years. And then he said this: “Could I come out there and see you and hang with you?” And I hesitated and here’s why. I said to my friend, “Your walk is there, with those people in that place.” I will be here and I will be available for you to lean on from time to time. But God’s Spirit is teaching you to walk where you are. Coming out to see me would be an escape. You’re welcome to come , but here’s what I’d like you to do. I want you to walk back into that church and I want you to go to Charley and go to Steve and go to Frank and I want you say, Would you pray for me? Would you help me? Hang onto them for a while until you have the strength for someone else to hang upon you…” And then I told him that I’d call next week.

Latah Friends–around us are those who are fainting—those who consider themselves Christian and those who do not. Now walk. Where does your heart break the most? Walk in that direction. If it doesn’t break for someone in your immediate vicinity, wait a while. Eventually someone might faint into you and then you’ll see what it means to walk. To walk and not faint is the equivalent to what Paul says to the Corinthians and to the Romans. He says, “To the weak I became weak.”

Amen.

Genesis 3:8 and Revelation 2:1

Each of the passages that we’ve read this morning offer beautiful images. The garden setting of Genesis and the lampstands of Revelation are very intriguing. But I want to focus with you today on how impractical they are. That is, what good does it do for us to ponder God walking anywhere? Or what possible benefit could there be in seeing Jesus as walking among a certain kind of light fixture? I mean, isn’t heaven fully wired for electricity? Does the risen Son of God really need anything to see where he’s going?

You see, each of these word-pictures is a little surreal, and because they are so surreal that it’s difficult for us to know what response, what activity, they recommend to us. For example, in the Life of Brian comedy, Brian loses one of his sandals as he’s being chased by the crowds of people who confuse him with the Messiah. He doesn’t stop to pick up his footware and that inspires all the people to remove one of each of their own sandals. “It’s a sign,” they say. But is it? Isn’t it just silly?

And so, I’m wondering about practicality, and whether the overt push for all things practical isn’t a little misguided when it comes to faith in God walking and in Jesus walking.

Bill Gates—that famous software guru and now that extremely wealthy philanthropist—once said that he cannot imagine a bigger waste of time than worshipping on Sunday mornings. And accordingly part of way he helps poorer countries is to provide as many children as possible with their own laptop computer and access to the Internet. You see, in the world of Bill Gates, information is practical and what’s practical rules the day. And yet, I wonder…

I wonder, for example, about the ways by which we are often cajoled into interpreting the Bible as if it were comprised of useful information and simple cause and effect relationships. “Pragmatism runs rampant in American Christianity,” writes Peter Nelson. “If faith does not ‘work’ it lacks value. We expect prompt and measurable results from knowing Christ…”

Years ago a young mother approached me with a concern. It had been a long and hot summer and in our local area of Pennsylvania there were no public pools or YMCA’s. One Christian school, however, maintained a pool, but they had a requirement. Each member of the pool had to sign a statement of faith in Jesus as well as in a certain understanding of the Bible as well as certain important social issues. This particular woman confessed to me that she didn’t believe in everything that the pool authorities wanted her to believe, but she had signed the document because it was impractical for her to travel another half-hour and join another pool in the lower income section of the suburbs. And, you see, that utilitarian shape of faith has been pervasive for a while and today many Christian leaders are wondering about the damage that’s being done.

Larry Crabb, in his book, The Pressure’s Off, says, “I have no strategies in mind to give you a better marriage, better kids, a more complete recovery from sexual abuse or a quicker healing after your divorce. Nor, I believe, does God… We can’t get life to work; it never will until heaven.”

Now, from my reading of the Bible, one thing is very clear and that is that God is speaking and continues to speak through his Holy Spirit. But the second thing that’s perhaps even more clear is that we are so busy, walking here and walking there, that we have trouble hearing this divine message. And, the only remedy to this sort of crisis, of course, is stopping—either being forced to stop or by stopping in some voluntary way. And both the Genesis passage and the Revelation passage provide us with what our ancestors in faith thought they heard when they stopped.

Namely, Adam and Eve felt as if they heard the sound—or thought they heard the sound –of the Lord God walking. And the pastor named John, who wound up being exiled to the island of Patmos, thought he heard the sound of Jesus, walking and talking among the churches of Asia Minor, and mystically speaking, it was almost as if these churches resembled lampstands marking out road into the future.

And again, let me repeat something that I’ve said before: none of these churches which are mentioned in the book of the Revelation to John exist today. They are all in ruins and their people buried by the sands of time. And yet, we live off of their legacy. We survive as a faith community, not because they found ingenious and profitable ways to keep going themselves, but because at some point they stopped and when they stopped they heard what John heard on the island, the sound of Jesus walking. Likewise, the very first man and the very first woman, according to tradition, stopped. They ate the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and they each realized that they didn’t want to eat anymore. They didn’t want to know anymore information. In fact, whatever knowledge about life they acquired in the catastrophic moment worked against them. They didn’t need to have their eyes opened so that they could see like God. They needed to listen for God at the time of the evening breeze when all the work of the day was done.

Friends at Latah—I do have a vision for this congregation, and I hope you do too. But let’s not get so carried away with being practical that we can’t hear both the sounds that are so challenging to us and the sounds that are so incomprehensibly comforting to us.

Amen.

Walking And Praising

May 16, 2011

Today’s passage (from Acts 3) isn’t simply about the healing. It’s not simply about the lame man, begging for hand-outs near the Beautiful Gate of the temple. It’s about that healed and once-lame man being seen—being observed walking and praising by those who had walked past him day after day. Acts 3:8 says, “Jumping up, he stood and began to walk and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God”—and that verse is so cool that verse nine continues,

“All the people saw him walking and praising God…”

In fact, so closely had this person combined the physical act of walking and the spiritual act of praising God that the author of Acts—who happens to be the same as the author of Luke’s gospel—might have conjoined the two activities like this: All the people saw him walking the praise of God. And so, that’s the subject of this meditation. You and I, like the lame man, will have encounters with Jesus and people within the religious institution will either see or not see the way we walk our praise. And so—the question is, what if we can’t do it? What if we feel the full weight of Peter and John, the intimate disciples of Jesus—what if we feel their eyes upon us—and rather than disappoint them and all their predecessors, the prophets and the patriarchs and the matriarchs of the Bible’s long history—what if, you know, we just watched them go in and out of the temple?

During this year’s celebration of Good Friday I accompanied Sheryl to an ecumenical service at the cathedral in downtown Spokane. She actually had a role within the service and so I watched her. I watched her process out with the bishops and the leaders of other denominations—all of them robed up in their religious garb. And then I watched as they circled around this large wooden cross and I watched as they all bowed their heads. All of them but one. That’s right. You guessed it. Sheryl—the Presbyterian in the group—failed to bow her head. Now I teased her about this later. I told her that the nuns behind me in the pews scoffed and snickered at the audacity of this brazen protestant clery-woman. I teased her and made her so self-conscious that as of this morning, when I drove her to the airport, she said, “Did those nuns really scoff like you said?” And I said, No. They just told me they’d be praying for your immortal soul.

You see, walking and praising God is difficult—sort of like rubbing your head and patting your stomach at the same time. And it’s enough to make us so conscious of ourselves that we miss the point.

Recently I was engaged in a little physical therapy and the therapist told me to walk in front of this huge mirror. And when I did this, she watched me closely and I could feel her eyes and then she imitated me and I think overly exaggerated the way that I turn my left foot in. I said that’s the way my Dad used to walk. And that’s how my sister used to walk when I called her Donna the Duck. And my therapist told me, well, that’s how you walk too. Now, you see, that’s uncalled for. That hurts. It hurts even more than the other times in my life when people have told me that I walk with a little arrogant strut. And it hurts more than the times when people have told me to watch where I’m walking, “you clumsy fool.” I mean, just think about those options. In so many words, my therapist told me that I either walk like my sister or that I walk like my deceased father. And I’m sorry, the only way that I can see myself clear of this genetic quagmire is if I learn to do what Peter and John command the man to do in Acts 3:6, which is, not to think about himself, but to stand and walk into the temple.

Dead Man Walking is a film, starring Susan Saradon, who plays a nun by the name of Helen Prejean. This person actually visits and prays with a criminal on death row and as he is walked to his execution—as he hears the derogatory phrase “Dead Man Walking” Sister Helen is there in the room and she says look at my face. Let my face be the last thing you see on this earth.” So here’s the effect, the death row inmate walks to his death, but he walks differently than all the other guilty men who have gone to the chair.

And what makes me think of this scene from the movie is this inspiring detail from Acts 3. The lame man, who had been healed in Jesus’ name, had never before entered the temple on his own two feet. He had only hung around the gate and begged. So pardon me for cutting to the chase but listen to this. It may be that the best inspiration you and I will ever experience in this life is to see someone who is outside be invited or be commanded to take his or her place on the inside. That may be the best inspiration that God has for us, even here, at Latah Valley. Think about this. What about not only walking yourself into the world, praising God, as you go? But what about consciously challenged those on the outside to walk in? What about risking the change in the company? Could there today be other ankles and feet that God wants to heal?

Amen.

“The stone is rolled back, not papier-mâché,
not a stone in a story…” —John Updike

Declaring something has a little air to it, a little flare to it, which is why we should refrain from declaring any random and self indulgent thing.

Declaring must be tethered to something big, although it may start out small.

It can start as small as a seed, as microscopic as a chromosome, the cilia of a flea, the photo-plankton of the deep, some tangent of a dream in which we pass through a series of infinitesimal doors and when we awake that little memory will be on our lips and we can declare what we’ve seen, what we’ve heard amid the squawking of the birds.

Except declaring, as I’ve said, must merge with something big, a universal belonging that’s yours, your own and that which you will never privately possess, a belonging that’s hers and his and theirs and in between all the ridiculous places we’ve met and that, as soon as we try to seize it and to take control of it, we wonder why the bitter traces of belonging sting us like a nest of hornets in our hands.

And here’s where the business or the art or the wondrous play of declaring really clears a person’s throat. Death. In the face of death we’re baffled and stymied and imagine ourselves drifting through the stratosphere whereas secretly we wanted it to work. We wanted what we saw and heard and smelled and touched and tasted of life to hum, to hit a stride and to run into the sun cresting over a green hill. We wanted life to work and were sad when it seemed to malfunction. And then we settled for death—death with its markers in stone, in wood, in steel, death with its obituaries stuck between the pages of an old book. We settled for death with not much to declare.

Yet, as I am read by what I read in the writings of Mark 16, our urge to declare delves deep into the fleeting layers of time—deep into what’s yours and what’s mine—and sinks anxious roots in the primordial possibility. What if it’s one person’s experience over two thousand years ago to ground all experience? What if what we know of life’s joy is the seed that made Mary pregnant? What if what we know of life’s pain has become the stuff only his chromosomes can handle? What if what we know of love and peace and justice—all the random encounters we have with goodness—what if they are the dots that only he connects? And what if he connects them through us?

These questions, you see, lead directly here and to the opportunities that we have to declare. Don’t say them too quickly without thinking about the repercussions or the consequences for your behavior or for your mission in life. But once you’ve had the chance to breathe and to reflect upon the breathless Christ Jesus, breathing again, my hope is that we will declare what we declare in this very air, as the sun rises.

Scott Kinder-Pyle, Latah Valley Presbyterian Church
Easter, April 24, 2011

No Answer–Amazing!

April 18, 2011

Jesus gives no answer. That’s probably an over-looked detail in this holy-week observance. Jesus gives no answer. And in this world where Google makes us experts in nearly every discipline or craft known to humankind and to the alien life forms we’ve yet to discover—giving no answer may be the hardest exercise of faith.

Many of you may already be familiar with the famous line of Saint Francis of Assisi who said something like, Preach the gospel and if necessary use words. And I like the sentiment of that. I like its moxie. In many respects words are overrated and depleted of their energy. And yet, I’m not sure that’s what’s happened for Jesus of Nazareth, standing before the governor of Palestine. In my view, Jesus has all kinds of words available to him, and if he wanted to, I think he could have persisted in arguing and making answer after answer.

Words, however, must do more than reach back into the past, where they’ve been honed and crafted into poems and into letters and into grandiose novels. Words must also reach forward into two things, two things that will become very evident in the gospel story.

What I’m saying is this: all the words and questions and answers that Jesus has given—all of them reach for the pain that he must suffer on the cross. And, you see, without that suffering the words of Jesus just don’t carry the freight that they need to carry.

Words like love and words like kingdom of heaven, for example, don’t really point to anything unless we see the Son of God willing and perfectly able to endure the mocking and the torture and the horrific feeling of being abandoned and cut off from God’s Holy Spirit.

So, this week, we marshal out the answers and we drill one another in the story of redemption. But let’s not forget that at its very center this story is the story of one who finally “gave him no answer, not even to a single charge, so that the governor was greatly amazed.”

Let’s not forget: the world at large is no longer waiting for us to explain and make sense of the Bible for them. Biblical knowledge and charismatic preaching will only take us so far. And then there’s the plunge. Then comes the face to face participation in suffering. Jesus, of course, promises to meet us there. And once we’ve been there, with him, my sense is that the words and the answers do return to our minds and to our lips. But they don’t return without venturing to this place, where Jesus gives no answer and simply waits for God’s vindication.

And Splash

March 23, 2011

Like the hands of crowds
where limousines cruise
and their windows absorb
the brunt of common touch
golden stalks of grass brush
against my calves. That is,
I’m riding my bike on dirt
down this path and each
burr attaching to denim
thighs and waist becomes
another badge.
Wind tells me
to stop receiving
rewards and I follow
its lead, crashing
gears and handle-bars
into bushes—the only
vast wilderness amid
the sprawl, traffic sedated—

Constant trickles click off
the seconds with brown
algae in full sight through
chrome spokes, mica
mirroring overcast
skies. I pick other stones
from the arch of my shoe,
pretending a sojourn
from fertile crescent
to fertile crescent,
exiled but
entering a trance
where a cicada-killer
might show his crude
face offer an
obscene silence
extend his arms into
a make-shift Jordan
and splash. And splash.

Scott Kinder-Pyle